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Mr. Kenji Miyamoto, who died Wednesday at the age of 98, embodied the history of the Japanese Communist Party both before and after World War II. The charismatic leader put the party on a realistic policy path, helping the party gain some influence in Japan’s politics.

His charisma mainly derived from the fact that he spent 12 years in jail and prison through early October 1945 without discarding his communist beliefs. A graduate of Imperial University of Tokyo and known for his prizewinning critique of Akutagawa Ryunosuke’s literary works, he became a JCP central committee member in 1933. He was arrested the same year on suspicion of violating the infamous Peace Preservation Law and later charged in connection with the death of a spy informer. He was given a life sentence but was rehabilitated after the war.

At a 1955 JCP meeting, he played a leading role in getting the party to discard the “armed struggle” approach. During the 1958 party convention at which the party veered toward parliamentary democracy, he was elected general secretary. He exercised great influence over the JCP by serving as presidium chairman, central committee chairman and an Upper House member. He virtually retired in 1997 when he became honorary chairman.

Mr. Miyamoto vehemently pursued a “soft” policy line in order to strengthen the JCP. Under his leadership, it dropped “proletarian dictatorship” from its platform. Mr. Miyamoto’s influence did not end with his retirement. At its 2004 party convention, the JCP made it clear that it would pursue, not socialist revolution, but democratic reform within the framework of capitalism. It has acceded to the emperor system and tentatively accepted the Self-Defense Forces.

Despite the policy flexibility initiated by Mr. Miyamoto, the JCP does not enjoy high popularity. It sticks to rigid “democratic centralism.” Obsessed with ideological purity, it also shuns formation of a united front with other opposition parties. The party will require another metamorphosis if it wants to become the people’s party in the true sense of the word.

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